The Make-Over at Toys-R-Us

Steve’s breakdown: They are talking about smaller stores that are more interactive. I don’t care if Toys-R-Us has not done real TV campaigns in a while, they are going to have to do them for this new format!

WAYNE, NJ: At a time when traditional anchor stores are diminishing their presence in malls, Toys R Us is tinkering with an interactive prototype shop that’s making its California debut Saturday in Santa Ana.

Modeled after its experimental Toy Lab store in New Jersey, the 25,000-square-foot shop is one of four opening by the end of the year. The smaller-format stores feature vibrant red, yellow and blue with “experiential” elements such as a play lab.

Distinctly branded aisles and sections display merchandise such as American Girl, Lego and “Star Wars” toys. Other parts of the store boast music and movie and buckets filled with toys ranging from $1 to $5.

The changes are aimed at enhancing the shopper experience at a time when consumers – especially millennials – are seeking entertaining experiences.

The Lego section looks like a petite version of the Downtown Disney Lego store with figurine displays such as a Supergirl made of Legos.

“It’s important to us as a specialty retailer to create a world-class experience for our customers,” the company told the Register in a statement. “We need to operate stores that are attractive, clean, technologically competitive and offer an engaging in-store shopping experience.”

The Santa Ana store – along with three in Florida – is part of a turnaround plan by CEO Dave Brandon. The executive is reconfiguring existing stores and opening smaller shops to fight off competition from online vendors such as Amazon.

“The biggest change you are going to see over the next year is that we want to bring our toy stores to life,” Brandon told Bloomberg in September. “I want kids to be dragging their parents to our stores because they want to see what’s going on at Toys R Us this weekend.”

The company is also testing video screens, sound effects and colorful motion-sensor lights, and unboxing more toys in play areas. It’s also hosting more events, such as Pokémon trading and birthday celebrations.

The retailer, which closed a store at The Market Place in Tustin earlier this year, has almost 600 stores in the U.S. and 700 overseas. It racks up almost $12 billion in annual sales – about 10 percent from the internet – and employs 62,000. The retailer generates more revenue than Under Armour Inc., Lululemon Athletica Inc. and Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. combined.

The Santa Ana store is at 3900 Bristol St. in the same center as T.J. Maxx and Bed Bath & Beyond.

In August, Toys R Us announced it would bring American Girl store-within-a-store concepts to roughly 100 stores this year. More American Girl store-within-a-store concepts will open next year.

At Toys R Us, Brandon’s growth plan includes obvious strategies like boosting online sales, which hit $1.3 billion last year. He also wants to open more stores in China and the U.S., including smaller locations.


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